If there’s anything Villanova has accomplished during its Big 5 week, it’s gradual improvement at the defensive end that will prepare the Wildcats for the brutal three-game stretch away from Finneran Pavilion that awaits them.

The sixth-ranked Cats limited St. Joseph’s to less than a point a minute Saturday for the first 30 minutes and held the visitors to 36.2% shooting overall in an 81-52 victory at Finneran Pavilion, their third win in seven days over a Big 5 opponent.

Collin Gillespie had another strong offensive game with 23 points, including five three-point baskets, and Justin Moore scored all 16 of his points in the second half as the Wildcats (6-2, 3-0 City Series) shot 52.8% from the field overall and 52.0% (13 of 25) on threes.

The Hawks (4-4, 0-1) overcame an early first-half drought with an 11-2 run to get to within 28-22 with 4 minutes, 6 seconds to play. However, they went without a point the rest of the period while Gillespie knocked down back-to-back threes to go down by 12 at the half, and a 12-3 run in the opening 5:12 of the second half put Nova firmly in control. The Cats’ largest margin was 35 with 4:45 to play.

All about the D

For Jay Wright, Saturday’s game was all about defense, as it usually is. The Cats coach assigned Moore to guard Taylor Funk, the Hawks’ top scorer with a 17.4-point average coming into the game, and put Brandon Slater on talented point guard Jordan Hall.

Funk, who went 8-for-10 from the arc in the Hawks’ previous game against Georgetown, went scoreless in almost 34 minutes, missing all six of his shots, five of them from deep. Hall had six turnovers and although he scored a team-high 22 points, 11 of them came in the final 6:43 after the game had been decided.

“Justin just did an incredible job,” Wright said. “He’s our best defender. We don’t talk about it a lot because we play a lot of good team defense but we always put him on the best player and he carries a lot of responsibility. He was outstanding. Funk’s good, man. What he did to Georgetown was really impressive. He can take over a game.”

For Moore, who led his team with seven rebounds and four assists, it was a matter of keeping up with Funk.

“He’s a great player and he moves well without the ball,” he said. “It’s seeing the ball and also seeing my man when he’s coming off screen action, sprint hard to keep up with him, staying connected to him. That’s what we worked on to prepare for this game and it worked out.”

Asked what stopped Funk, St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange said, “Every single guy in a Villanova basketball jersey.”

“They make you take challenged shots and all of a sudden you get open ones, and they feel a little bit more rushed than they probably are,” Lange said. “He had some times when he was open.”

Moore stays cool

Moore shot just 6 of 20 and scored 18 points in the Wildcats’ wins over La Salle and Penn, and he went scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting in Saturday’s first half. But he came out firing after halftime, sinking back-to-back threes in the first 2:03 and gradually adding to his total.

“I’m not worried about my shots going in,” he said. “That’s going to take care of itself as long as I’m rebounding, playing hard, playing team defense and communicating out there.”

The sub-sixth man

With Villanova’s Caleb Daniels sitting out the game with the virus that has gone through the team, junior Chris Arcidiacono took over sixth-man duties and did a little of everything – two three-point baskets, eight points, five rebounds, one steal and overall solid defense in 25 ½ minutes.

“I’m always going to try to be helpful by defending and rebounding, helping the team in that way at the defensive end, try to create more energy when I come into the game,” he said.

Coming up

The Wildcats face old Big East rival Syracuse Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, followed by road games at Baylor on Dec. 12 and at Creighton on Dec. 17, their Big East opener.

The Hawks will host Penn on Wednesday and Temple on Saturday.